Pradipta Pati on LinkedIn started a discussion on, “How can a technical writer from non-technical background succeed in managing complex technical information or document?” There were several good answers: look into content management systems and help tools,write in XML, ask a lot of questions, maintain a query sheet, shut up and listen, use the S1000D standard for documentation about manufacturing, do your homework, insist on seeing demos and source documents, talk to others than just the engineers. Here’s my contribution:
Do some research into the development cycle of whatever you’re documenting, the industry and its practices, and currest best practices in project management and documentation. A glossary is key because you need to understand what people are telling you.Find out what knowledge your audience brings to their reading, so that you know where to start explaining. Develop a description of the beginner, typical user, and advanced user, then use them to check whether you’re covering what they need to know. Get lots of feedback at early stages:audience definition, knowledge to be transferred, discrete topics, who needs to know what, and a coherent order of presentation.
Try to include overviews and concepts as well as how-to information. Support verbiage with diagrams or tables. Ask the experts if your translation of what they said is accurate, but also identify gaps in their explanations. Use your research to fill in the parts that they assume everyone knows.